Tuesday, 21 January 2014

"The power to surprise"

   To borrow Kia's phrase "The power to surprise", I am certainly not referring to their latest SUV but a meeting today with my supervisor. Even at this early stage of the PhD I had an idea of what I was going to be working on over the next few years and a plan in my head as to how things might pan out. That was until today... during the meeting I presented a tentative work plan for the coming three years and a more detailed plan for the next 12 months, as I saw it. Two hours later work plan version 1.0 mais well be consigned to the recycle bin (not all that bad as can use to to develop version 2).

   The Prof (will call my supervisor that from now on) suggested (and we discussed) a whole new way of looking at the problem of representing vegetation in urban areas that was not restricted to a single modelling framework. In fact the production of a final operational model as it turns out (in the Profs view) should not be the overall aim of the PhD, it is more important to ensure the science is correct, implementation can wait as it is a trivial coding exercise. That means that I have greater freedom when developing and testing the model I chose to construct on close consultation with the literature and what question I want to answer. This flexibility would then allow additional coupling with a range of models that are not restricted by the the frameworks of operational numerical prediction models (although an overall aim would be to implement my findings within them if possible). So tomorrow it is time to have a re-think of the key reading I need to undertake and start to formulate those initial questions.

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Departmental Seminar (Monday 20th July)
'Chemtrails, carbon tragets and methane burps: Climate science communication in the UK government'
Tyrone Dunbar (Met Office Hadley Centre/ DEFRA/ DECC - formally at Reading)

   Something a little different for a seminar, with a focus on how to communicate often complex scientific theories in a correct and concise manner to the UK government. Tyrone gave an overview of his role in this process for DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) and DECC (Department of Energy & Climate Change) where he produces science statements to aid policy and law makers (Members of Parliament and House of Lords) from the latest meteorology and climate research.
   One of the most worrying aspects of his job was the need to explain the headlines of the Daily Mail and Express (other papers too) are not scientifically accurate to MPs! He produces a briefing note that summaries the true science behind the headline (if there is any) in three easy to remember soundbites that unsuspecting MPs can then use if they are questioned on the headlines by journalists. However this task is not limited to spurious press stories but also includes scientific papers that make the news. The example he presented was a paper on 'Methane Burps' that highlighted the potential financial impact of a sudden mass release of methane from the tundra and sea floor. In this case Tyrone contacted the experts in the relevant field whether that be in other government funded research institutes (e.g. Met Office) or academic specialists to get consensus/facts before producing the a response and guidance. It turned out some of the assumptions made in the paper were extremely unlikely in reality meaning that some the underlying science was questionable.
   Other aspects of his work included producing responses to freedom of information requests from the public and questions asked in parliament. He informed the audience of a scheme that matches up academics with civil service personnel to see how DECC and DEFRA operate and how science is used in the formulation of policy.
   From this talk I certainly will take away the need to be able to explain your research concisely and in terms that are understandable to a wider audience and to ensure that pictures used to describe your work are chosen carefully.        
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